US Air Force Gets First Buddhist Chaplain

Chaplain (1Lt) Brett Campbell recently became the US Air Force’s first (and only) Buddhist chaplain [emphasis added]:

The Iowa native who was raised Catholic discovered meditation and was introduced to Buddhism while at Iowa State University. He was attracted to the religion because it was more of a life philosophy and that he was frustrated with the mainstream church culture and system that was so susceptible to corruption.

After graduation, Campbell joined the Peace Corps and served in Mongolia where he said he began identifying as a Tibetan Buddhist.

That’s an interesting use of terminology, “began identifying” as opposed to “became” or “converted to”.

Chaplain Campbell was actually noted here more than seven years ago, when he began as a chaplain candidate initially for the Navy.

In an interesting note about his unique position, the article highlights the use of invocations at some military functions — and the fact Buddhists don’t have invocations (they don’t pray, after all):

With no model for a Buddhist invocation, Campbell said he had to work through what these public “prayers” would look like. They have evolved over the past six months but he said he uses them to provide Airmen with a moment of self-reflection. In one recent invocation, he encouraged Airmen to reflect on the benefits of their work relationships and how each individual could do their part to strengthen those bonds.

It’s an interesting example regarding the US military’s support for religious diversity — particularly given the extremely low number of Buddhists in any of the Armed Services.  When it comes to support for religious freedom under the Constitution, it’s laudable that the military is supportive of even low density — or even offensive — faiths.

And the same freedom that protects Chaplain Campbell’s exercise of his Buddhist “faith” protects the exercise of other faiths — including Christians.  If only people in and out of the US military would remember that — reference Col Leland Bohannon, Chaplain Wes Modder, Chaplain Ken Reyes, USAFA cadets, etc, etc, etc.

It’s also notable given that critics seem to complain that invocations are only ever given by white male protestant evangelical fundamentalists who insist on praying in Jesus’ Name and having an altar call. The truth is invocations happen all the time, by chaplains of all stripes — and, yet, the world continues to turn.  It seems that claims Christians would cause “blood in the streets” if they heard a non-Christian invocation aren’t entirely true, Mikey.

Of course, examples of tolerance and the protection of religious exercise, as with Chaplain Campbell, won’t generate outrage — or “donations,” if you happen to run a “charity” whose target is Christians and military religious freedom.

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